The Water Protectors: Why the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline

Kirby Shramuk | guest writer

For the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakota region, the Missouri River is the only source of water — and it has been for hundreds of years. But there is something standing in the way of the tribe’s ability to obtain safe, clean drinking water: The Dakota Access Pipeline. Run by the Energy Transfer Company, the DAPL is an extension of the already existing Bakken Pipeline. This extension will allow the Bakken Pipeline to expand further, from northwest North Dakota to southern Illinois. In order to complete the construction of the DAPL, it will not only have to run through the Missouri River, a major freshwater source for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and surrounding states such as North and South Dakota, but also through major Sioux archeological and historical sites.

So what exactly is the main concern with the completion of the DAPL?

Oil spills.

The pipeline (which is being built underneath the Missouri River) could burst, causing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil to flood the river. Standing Rock residents’ concerns are valid. According to the New York Times, oil pipe ruptures are quite a common occurrence — the paper reported in 2013 that “a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in North Dakota broke open and spilled 865,000 gallons of oil onto a farm.”

Another example of the damages from oil spills occurred in 2010, when an “Enbridge Energy pipeline dumped more than 843,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, resulting in a cleanup that lasted years and cost more than a billion dollars.”

On average, the cleanup from oil spills takes years to accomplish, and the effects are long-lasting. A prime example — and probably the one you know best — is the BP Oil spill in 2010. Not only did it waste thousands and thousands of gallons of oil, it ruined the ecosystem, causing extensive environmental damage.

In response to the DAPL, the youth in Standing Rock have created a movement called “ReZpect our Water.” In fact, they are calling themselves the “Water Protectors,” instead of protesters. This movement has rapidly grown, gaining support from all over the United States. In fact, many celebrities are endorsing the movement as well, such as Shailene Woodley (who was actually arrested earlier week).

Pushback on the protests lies in those who support of the construction of the DAPL because it will create jobs and allow for domestic oil to be transferred across the United States rather than importing it from abroad. Yes, the construction will create jobs, but they will only be temporary positions. The farmers that live and work on this land will lose their livelihood if the pipe ruptures.

Activists against the pipeline see this as an opportunity for America to start investing in more sustainable opportunities that don’t rely on oil and other fossil fuels. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the EPA, “the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for 79 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.” These emissions then get trapped in our atmosphere, slowly heating up the planet. Air pollution from manufacturing also “leads to acid rain, excess greenhouse gases, and health risks.”

This is not the first time that the government has ignored concerns for access to clean, safe drinking water, in order to generate a greater profit. Earlier this year, news of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan broke: According to a timeline established by NPR, Flint city officials started to look for cheaper ways to provide water. They eventually decided to obtain water from the local Flint River. However, the water was never tested to see if it would cause corrosion within the pipelines which connected the city to the river. As a result, the pipes corroded and caused lead poisoning, which caused dozens of deaths and hundreds of people to become ill. While the City of Flint was able to save money, it lost so much more.

This is what the Standing Rock Sioux people are worried about. The probability of the pipe bursting and affecting the drinking water is too high. It is important to understand that land is not only something to make a profit on. Land is used to grow food, build homes, and live. A pipeline this huge will not only cause problems in the ecosystem, but it can be catastrophic if it happens to fail. That is what Native Americans are standing up for. It is time that the government finally listens to them.